Moods in Music

Level: Beginner to Advanced

Nick Tozier

If a musical note is the equivalent of a word, a song is a story. Like all good stories, there's got to be something emotionally riveting going on to keep the audience interested. If we're reading a book and itís good right up until the end, where the author threw in some horrible cliché or unbelievable twist that makes no sense, isn't everything we've read so far completely wasted?

Like a book, a song has to start off by getting our attention, then building interest, reaching some sort of plateau, and then ending in a way that doesn't detract from everything that came before. In order to accomplish this, all the parts of the song must fit together and make cozy neighbors, or a piece of music can go downhill.

We'll start with the smallest picture, which we'll call the home jam. Sometimes you're just sort of improvising, experimenting with different sounds and scales and chords, when all of a sudden a lick or progression comes out that just sounds terrific. Your ears prick, and the sound penetrates you in a way that makes you want to play it over and over again. Whether it's a simple three-chord progression or a smoking wah lick, you play it over and over and over, loving every single note. What kind of a mood does it set for you?

Try using this riff as the basis of a lengthy improvisation. Take it in every direction it can go. Play it frontwards, backwards, distorted, clean, at different speeds and different octaves. If you've got the setup for it, try some different effects as well. Come up with some other riffs that fit well with the first, and experiment with those a lot too. Try to remember the ones you liked most, and when you feel like youíve done enough, take the best riffs and put them alltogether to make a rough song. Put them together in all the different ways you can, and once again, decide which way they go together best. You can say a sentence a million ways. Apply the same idea to your playing.

I should say that either writing stuff down or recording your efforts is verywise. If you've got good memory, and can do without either, fine, but most people can't. Me included; if I don't write down longer riffs and solos I often forget to remember.

When you're writing a song, listen very closely to the ways the guitar or bass line changes as the piece progresses. Each riff, each note, in fact, has a distinct mood depending on how itís played, and the notes or riffs surrounding it affect this. The mood can be altered with the slightest change. A single bend or added note can have surprising impact. Notice the way that your feelings change as the music changes, and listen specifically for any point where the mood is broken by an inappropriate change of direction. Maybe turning on the distortion pedal and hammering away with power chords wasn't such a good idea after all. Even if you really love that heavy section, donít hesitate to cut it from the song. You can find a better home for it, a piece that puts it on a pedestal instead of dumping it in the mud.

A final word: play like you mean it! Don't be half-hearted, especially if you're performing. When you play, think of each note as a syllable, and the way you say each counts. The way the syllables form words and the words form sentences can be almost magical. It's like saying "I love you"; you've got to say it with your entire spirit, or it's meaningless. Play with complete joy. Play like you're whispering in your listener's ear or shouting soul to soul. If it's strong enough in you, everyone else will feel it too. People are always willing to surrender to a good feeling once it begins to spread; emotion is infectious. Love what you do and youíre giving everyone in the room a reason to love it, too. Not everyone will love what you do, because people don't always have their heart and ears open to particular styles. If you put your entire soul behind it and it makes you shiver just to play it, you've done what really counts, and you will move those people who are truly listening.


Nick Tozier says, "Take a look at the Earth from a plane. You'll see the earth cut up and in pain. Take a look at L.A. from the sky. What you see should make you cry. Hey, my children...what seems important won't last forever."

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